The Winter 2016 cover of UHQ features an image of a young man selling newspapers on the streets of Salt Lake City in the early 1900s. This photograph initially attracted us because of its subject and composition. Once we had access to a high-resolution copy of the photo, we realized there was more to it: the young man’s cap is inscribed “the dumb news boy.”
Who was this fellow? Why did his cap have a title that (at least to modern sensibilities) sounds offensive? The quality of the photo allowed us look closely at the newspaper for sale, an issue of the Salt Lake Herald from the summer of 1904. With a little more detective work, we learned the story of Walter B. Evans—the newsboy in this image.
According to contemporary reports, the nineteen-year-old Evans had lost the ability to speak after an illness some four years earlier. His parents were already deceased at that point, so the New Yorker took to supporting himself by selling newspapers. By 1904, Evans had traveled all over the East and South as a newsboy and was headed to San Francisco via Salt Lake City. He spent at least some time in Utah’s capital in July 1904 before apparently heading toward the Inland Northwest.
The Salt Lake Herald emphasized Evans’s pluck and capability, the young man having seen much of the United States through his own hard work. By the time Evans reached Portland in November 1904, however, the Oregonian portrayed him as a tramp and something of a threat. Whatever the case, Evans’s story is a fascinating one that has the potential to provide insights into the histories of both disability and itinerancy at the turn of the twentieth century.
We invite you to begin your own detective work.